There are specific provisions in international law to protect humanitarian workers and journalists during armed conflict. Under Article 79 of Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, which codifies a customary rule, journalists in war zones must be treated as civilians and protected as such, provided they play no part in the hostilities.
Resolution 2222 approved by the United Nations Security Council on 27 May 2015, which extends and strengthens Resolution 1738 passed in 2006, reminds all parties in an armed conflict of their obligations to respect those who work in the media and protect them against all forms of violence.
The UN General Assembly also took up the issue in its resolutions 68/163, passed on 18 December 2013 and 69/185, on 18 December 2014, which urge member states to work together to prevent violence against journalists.
Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, relating to the Protection of victims of international armed conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977
Article 79 – Measures of protection for journalists
- Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1.
- They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians, and without prejudice to the right of war correspondents accredited to the armed forces to the status provided for in Article 4 A (4) of the Third Convention.
- They may obtain an identity card similar to the model in Annex II of this Protocol. This card, which shall be issued by the government of the State of which the journalist is a national or in whose territory he resides or in which the news medium employing him is located, shall attest to his status as a journalist.
Resolution 2222 (2015) adopted by the UN Security Council on 27 May 2015
The Security Council
… Recognizing that the work of journalists, media professionals, and associated personnel often puts them at specific risk of intimidation, harassment and violence in situations of armed conflict,
… Deeply concerned at the frequency of acts of violence in many parts of the world against journalists, media professionals, and associated personnel in armed conflict, in particular deliberate attacks in violation of international humanitarian law
… Further acknowledging the specific risks faced by women journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in conduct of their work, and underlining in this context the importance of considering the gender dimension of measures to address their safety in situations of armed conflict…
1. Condemns all violations and abuses committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict, and calls upon all parties to armed conflict to bring an end to such practices;
2. Affirms that the work of a free, independent and impartial media constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, and thereby can contribute to the protection of civilians;
… 4. Strongly condemns the prevailing impunity for violations and abuses committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict, which in turn may contribute to the recurrence of these acts;
5. Emphasizes the responsibility of States to comply with the relevant obligations under international law to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law;
… 8. Urges the immediate and unconditional release of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel who have been kidnapped or taken as hostages, in situations of armed conflict;
9. Urges all parties involved in situations of armed conflict to respect the professional independence and rights of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel as civilians;
10. Recalls also that media equipment and installations constitute civilian objects, and in this respect shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals, unless they are military objectives;
11. Recognizes the important role that education and training in international humanitarian law can play in supporting efforts to halt and prevent attacks against civilians affected by armed conflict, including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel;
12. Affirms that United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions, where appropriate, should include in their mandated reporting information on specific acts of violence against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situation of armed conflict;
13. Urges all parties to armed conflict to do their utmost to prevent violations of international humanitarian law against civilians, including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel;
14. Calls upon Member States to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for journalists, media professionals and associated personnel to perform their work independently and without undue interference in situations of armed conflict
… 19. Requests the Secretary-General to include consistently as a sub-item in his reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict the issue of the safety and security of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel, including the existence of measures to protect such individuals facing an imminent threat, and to ensure that information on attacks and violence against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel and preventative actions taken to prevent such incidents is included as a specific aspect in relevant country specific reports.
Resolution 69/185 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 2014, on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity
The General Assembly
… Acknowledging that journalism is continuously evolving to include inputs from media institutions, private individuals and a range of organizations that seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, online as well as offline, in the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, in accordance with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, thereby contributing to the shaping of public debate,
… Deeply concerned by all human rights violations and abuses committed in relation to the safety of journalists, including killing, torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention, expulsion, intimidation, harassment, threats and other forms of violence,
Expressing deep concern at the increased number of journalists and media workers who have been killed or detained in recent years as a direct result of their profession,
Expressing deep concern also at the growing threat to the safety of journalists posed by non-State actors, including terrorist groups and criminal organizations,
Acknowledging the specific risks faced by women journalists in the exercise of their work, and underlining, in this context, the importance of taking a gender-sensitive approach when considering measures to address the safety of journalists,
1Acknowledging also the particular vulnerability of journalists to becoming targets of unlawful or arbitrary surveillance or interception of communications in violation of their rights to privacy and to freedom of expression,
1. Condemns unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention, as well as intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations;
2. Strongly condemns the prevailing impunity for attacks and violence against journalists, and expresses grave concern that the vast majority of these crimes go unpunished, which in turn contributes to the recurrence of these crimes;
3. Urges the immediate release of journalists and media workers who have been taken as hostages or who have become victims of enforced disappearances;
4. Encourages States to take the opportunity of the proclamation of 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists to raise awareness regarding the issue of the safety of journalists and to launch concrete initiatives in this regard;
… 6. Urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all alleged violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction, to bring perpetrators, including those who command, conspire to commit, aid and abet or cover up such crimes to justice, and to ensure that victims and their families have access to appropriate remedies;
7. Calls upon States to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference, including by means of:
- Legislative measures
- Awareness-raising in the judiciary and among law enforcement officers and military personnel, as well as among journalists and in civil society, regarding international human rights and humanitarian law obligations and commitments relating to the safety of journalists;
- The monitoring and reporting of attacks against journalists;
- Publicly and systematically condemning violence and attacks; and
- Dedicating the resources necessary to investigate and prosecute such attacks and to develop and implement strategies for combating impunity for attacks and violence against journalists, including by using, where appropriate, good practices such as those identified in Human Rights Council resolution 27/5 of 25 September 2014;
8. Stresses the need to ensure better cooperation and coordination at the international level, including through technical assistance and capacity-building, with regard to ensuring the safety of journalists, including with regional organizations;
9. Calls upon States to cooperate with relevant United Nations entities, in particular the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as well as international and regional human rights mechanisms, and to share information on a voluntary basis on the status of investigations into attacks and violence against journalists; …